The First Time I Worshipped at a White Church

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I’m a spiritual person.

Notice I didn’t describe myself as religious.

I believe in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

I know scripture.

I even have my favorite verse tattooed on my back (2 Timothy 2:3) in the shape of a cross.

Since I moved away from Nashville in the summer of 2011, I’ve either been catching streaming service of Mt. Zion or church-hopping in New York because I just haven’t found a church that I can call home. Two weekends ago while I was in Portland, I was invited to service before I left town that night. I readily accepted because I’m always curious to see what different churches have to offer.

I’d be lying if I said that I’ve been to a majority Caucasian church service before. Mt. Zion is a Baptist church in name but it has a nondenominational feel. There are people of all races who are members, but the congregation is approximately 80-90% African American. The church I’ve attended the most times while living in New York (Brooklyn Tabernacle) has a mixture of ethnicities. That said, I was shocked when we pulled up to the church and I didn’t see one face of color. This would be my first time attending a White church.

I was skeptical at first, but I kept my reservations to myself for fear of not seeming open to stepping outside of my comfort zone. What would the pastor talk about? What was his preaching style? Was he like Joel Osteen? What would praise be like? Would the songs sound the same? These were all questions racing through my mind as we made our way to the sanctuary.

Not only was the church majority White, but from what I could see, we were the only Black people in the entire church. My uncertainties were quickly laid to rest when service began. I felt right at home and as the portion of service came where you greet fellow worshipers, it reminded of Mt. Zion.

For some people, their favorite part of service may be praise. For some, it may be fellowship. My favorite part has always been the Word. I enjoy when gospel finds relevance to a particular situation that I may be going through. I appreciate when that gospel is encased within allegory and parables.

This particular Sunday morning, the focus was on Forgotten Virtues: Loyalty. I took great notes and anticipated reading up on the scripture on loyalty with friends, in church, and to your spouse. I was so engrossed in the Word that I didn’t realize that service was almost over.

I thought to myself that this experience wasn’t half bad. I actually enjoyed myself.

Then the hammer dropped.

Before we left, we took communion and offering. While offering was being collected, a video was played on the jumbo screen. The church supports a number of missionaries. This particular couple was interracial. A White woman and a Congolese man with a beautiful baby girl. They were and I quote:

“Going to ‘Africa’ to help the Muslims find the light of Christianity.”

From there, the couple went on to describe how the people in “Africa” needed their help. Honestly, I was surprised that the wife didn’t use the words “barbarian” and “uncivilized” as descriptors.

Judging from the interaction of the couple on the video, I thought that the wife had a bit of a savior’s complex. Her husband’s accent was very thick and it seemed as if she might have found him and introduced Christianity to his life. She “saved” him from eternal damnation and now they were going to save other souls.

I’m a spiritual person.

Notice I didn’t describe myself as religious.

Although I would classify myself as Baptist (closest thing in America to the C&S Nigerian church I grew up in), I’m tolerant of other religions. I own three bibles, but I also own a Qur’an. I’m fascinated by other religions, but not in a way that makes me question my own faith; so it’s unnerving when I come across other Christians who feel that everyone on the face of this planet has to follow their religion.

I was bothered by the video but it wasn’t like I could just get up and walk out of the sanctuary. One, I didn’t drive. Two, that would have been rude and I was raised better than that.

The video perturbed me because the woman kept saying, “If you want to come help Africans then anyone is more than welcome.”

One of my pet peeves is when someone describes Africa as if it’s a country. Africa is an enormous continent with countries of different people with distinctive dialects, skin tones, cultural nuisances and histories. Grouping everyone together is lazy, ignorant, and disrespectful.

The video also reminded me of imperialism. When Europeans landed in Africa, they employed the age-old tactic of using The Bible as a stepping-stone into enlightening the “savages”  in order to exploit the wealth of natural resources. It was only for their good. Left to their own devices, these savages wouldn’t survive. Never mind that people had been living on the African continent just fine before Europeans came.

The White man that landed here, he came with two great weapons. One is the Bible and the other was the gun. If he didn’t humble you with the Bible, he’d crumble you with the gun. And, he’s still praising the Lord and passing ammunition all over the world. — Lewis H. Michaux

I walked into that church feeling apprehensive. That apprehension quickly turned into relief and joy. Those euphoric feelings hurriedly back flipped into repulsion and abhorrence. As I exited the sanctuary, all I could do was lower my head and shake it in disgust.

Have you ever attended church service that was outside the realm of what you were comfortable with? How was that experience? How do you feel about people pushing their religion upon others? Have you ever had someone thrust their beliefs on you?

- Tunde

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  • fourpageletter

    sigh.

    i mean, i guess they made the video for their audience, which never comprised of the people of which they speak. i would like to HOPE some people were uncomfortable watching that in your presence. (but not enough to change though).

    i too am always annoyed when people talk about Africa as a country. when i went to the Af-Am museum in Detroit, there was a powerful exhibit that had a picture of the continent. you could press a button and a picture of another country/continent would be superimposed onto it to show just how MINUSCULE it is in comparison. very jarring reminder.
    My recent post qotw: what would your tattoo say?

  • starita34

    Interesting topic.

    I've been uncomfortable in more churches than I've been comfortable in. But the two that stand out the most were:

    – the mega church that actually had an AWESOME congregation; but the most stereotypical, fake, money hungry, $100,000 car driving, narcissistic, self absorbed pastor. Complete with the wife who's "face" was plastic surgery riddled beyond recognition. The whole church was designed to worship him (the pastor, not Him) and he made no attempt to hide that.

    – visiting my childhood church as an adult and seeing it with adult eyes. Becoming aware of some of the shady things happening behind the scenes… :-(

    • Tunde

      ah yes. that's one thing i can't stand about mega churches. most times the congregation tends to worship the man rather than realize that the pastor should be a vessel used to deliver God's message.
      My recent post Not Everything Is Ok In Black America, But What’s Next?

      • http://twitter.com/jtSolBroSupreme @jtSolBroSupreme

        Don't think pastor worship is restricted to mega churches, cause it ain't. ;-) the manipulation goes on in most churches, mega-and-not-so-mega, right down to the little cornerstore and bama country churches running a number on folks.
        and unfortunately, pastor worship is pretty big in most of OUR churches, big or small.
        But, I agree, the pastor is not there to be worshipped by us, so 1) we need to stop worshipping them and 2) they need to stop facilitating the pastor worship by accepting and promoting that mess.

  • Southerngyrl_

    I grew up in a black church. I can't say it was predominantly black, because I never saw a white person there. It is an AME (african methodist episcopal) church, so I guess it kind of says it in the name. I have had one experience in a church where I initially felt uncomfortable. Like your experience, it was a church where I was the only black face. Unlike your experience, I loved it.

    It was a small United Methodist church. I was uncomfortable initially because the topic of the sermon that day was racism. Lucky me, right? The minister, who was a woman, told a story about how her son and his friend (black guy) got into trouble when they were teenagers. She talked about how her son got a slap on the wrist, whereas his friend was in the process of getting railroaded. His parents, along with the minister and her husband, worked to get him the same punishment as her son. She said that she used that situation as a teaching lesson for her son, about how the world did not treat everyone the same. I was surprised that she even told that story and to mention her own child as an example, man. I was impressed, not only because this was a church where most of the congregation was white, but because I have such a dim view of ministers in general.

    I am not a fan of people pushing their religions on others, but I grew up in the South. If you have any beliefs about religion that don't fall into a box, you may be considered an outsider. Growing up as a black person in the South, people expect you to believe certain things. I moved away and was exposed to many types of people. I have friends who don't believe, friends who are religious, and friends whose views fall in between. The one thing I don't like is for people to use the Bible in a logical argument. Example: Gay marriage is wrong because it goes against the Bible. So…if you don't believe in the Bible, you still can't get married? huh? This argument only works when you're talking to people who believe. If the person doesn't believe, your argument is moot.

    I am black and southern, people are always trying to thrust their beliefs on me.
    :)

    • Tunde

      i love when pastors can preach about topics that aren't the usual "you're down now but the breakthrough is coming", "you're going to hell if you don't tithe" or "anything to do with relationships". there are more issues than that in the world and it takes courage to step up and address them. kudos to that pastor.

      the bible belt is no joke. i grew up in the north (well maryland/dc is technically the south but socially its north) and i moved south so i got a taste of how Christianity can be used to used as a weapon to put others down.
      My recent post Not Everything Is Ok In Black America, But What’s Next?

      • Southerngyrl_

        Definitely. The UM church was in Northern VA. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. If I still lived there, I would probably attend regularly.

        I agree with your view on the topics. I love real world stories and less theatrics. I would add to starita's post too by saying that it isn't just the mega churches who have the minister worship. The church I grew up in is small. If I could detail the craziness they've had to deal with, especially in regards to greedy ministers and narcissism, you wouldn't believe half of it.

  • MissLia

    LOL yea I've been to a few interesting churches before. One time I went to this church where every other minute somebody was catching the spirit, which is fine in and of itself. But at some point I realized that we never actually heard a sermon, I was really confused. It felt kind of cult-like…

    I'm not for forcing religious views on anyone, you can't really force someone into believing something if they don't. If you're too harsh in your message, you're more likely to turn them away completely. However, I do know that christians are supposed to be a light in the world. That means sharing our faith when God calls us to do so. But he doesn't call us to do it in every situation, and when he does it will be to people whose hearts are open to it. I think I would have been put off by that video too. Something about it gives off the stench of ignorance…

    Oddly enough, the only people who've ever tried to push any beliefs on me were atheists. Some of them will go hard to get you to denounce your faith in Jesus, it's ridiculous.

    • Tunde

      " Something about it gives off the stench of ignorance…"

      not only ignorance but arrogance. dangerous combination.

      don't get me started on atheists. i've had to unfollow more than a couple ppl on twitter for foolishness. if i want to tweet scripture let me do so in peace.
      My recent post Not Everything Is Ok In Black America, But What’s Next?

    • starita34

      "LOL yea I've been to a few interesting churches before. One time I went to this church where every other minute somebody was catching the spirit, which is fine in and of itself. But at some point I realized that we never actually heard a sermon, I was really confused. It felt kind of cult-like… "

      Un. Com. Fort. Able.

  • DeKeLa

    One of the most uncomfortable and profound things a mentor of mine told me years ago.

    "Religion is a tool to control the masses".

    Which is why an organization can make a mission to "free Africans from tyranny of Islam" or any other venture, as long as it done in the name of Religion.

    • Tunde

      i will never forget this quote from book of eli in reference to the bible:

      IT'S NOT A F*CKIN' BOOK! IT'S A WEAPON. A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small, fuckin' town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they'll do exactly what I tell 'em if the words are from the book. It's happened before and it'll happen again. All we need is that book.
      My recent post Not Everything Is Ok In Black America, But What’s Next?

    • Uncle Hugh, BP

      "Religion is a tool to control the masses".

      I think it's more accurate to say, "religion is a tool that can be misued by those in power to control the masses."

      • DeKeLa

        Not at all.. A tool is a tool which can be used for good or bad.. The intention of the person differs as controlling the masses is neither inherently a bad or good thing.

  • Uncle Hugh, BP

    Have you ever attended church service that was outside the realm of what you were comfortable with?

    Not too often. A church that is into pastor worship irks me, but other than doctrinal issues, there hasn't been anything too serious.

    How do you feel about people pushing their religion upon others?

    Define pushing. I think some people are so overly sensitive, that even mentioning religion (or absence of it) is interpreted as pushing or forcing in their mind. I have no issue with someone telling someone else about their religion. Oddly, the people that take the greatest offense have no absolutely problem spreading their own personal opinions/beliefs/etc. However, forcing your unwanted opinion on others after they say they politely said they are not interested is a different matter.

    (1/2)

    • Uncle Hugh, BP

      (2/2)

      Have you ever had someone thrust their beliefs on you?

      Define thrust. I've had people from all types of religions and without religion tell me about their beliefs. I'm open to hearing about any religion, or lack thereof. Outside of Jehovah Witnesses ringing my doorbell at ungodly hours in the morning, I can't say anyone "thrust" their opinions on me.

      • starita34

        "Define thrust."

        *giggle*…maybe I am a h0e…or 5 years old…
        :-p

    • Tunde

      by pushing i mean someone blatantly telling you that your religion is wrong and they're worried about the fate of your soul.
      My recent post Not Everything Is Ok In Black America, But What’s Next?

      • Uncle Hugh, BP

        "by pushing i mean someone blatantly telling you that your religion is wrong and they're worried about the fate of your soul."

        With that definition, it depends.

        I don't have an issue with people with convictions and believing their religion is correct, versus some feeble, equivocating, "everyone is right" belief. The Truth is what the Truth is, regardless of what one feels about it. I don't have a problem with someone believing someone else's religion is wrong and being worried about the fate of their soul. It's the "blatantly telling" part of that definition that I take issue with.

        (sarcasm) I'm sure telling someone, "YOU'RE A SINNER AND YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!" is a great way to convert someone's heart.(/sarcasm) Being Christian, I'm indifferent when others do it, but I want to slap Christians that do it. The only time Jesus was that critical was with those who were already Jews, particularly the religious leaders, that should have known better.
        (1/2)

        • Uncle Hugh, BP

          (2/2)

          For Christians: first, show the love Jesus said that is evidence of having Him. Second, share your beliefs if the person asks or if it is the topic of conversation. If they accept, then you can go about correcting people who willingly decide they want to follow Christ. If they don't accept, live and let live. If you think they are going to hell, keep it to yourself. I'm pretty sure everyone understands there's some sort of divine punishment in all religions for rejecting them.

  • Tunde

    yep people really tend to forget how massive (land wise) africa really is. i doubt that many people were uncomfortable tho. i think that they really thought they were doing good. that saviors complex is a mf'er.

  • http://thatswhatgemsaid.wordpress.com Gem

    i think it all comes down to privilege. and ignorance. and that's not always bad.

    the life group i attend is all white – minus me and my friend (both black). all the women are older (45+) and very sweet and welcoming. our group decided to take part in a project that provides orphans in Uganda clothing and school supplies. we are given the age and gender of the child but no clothing sizes. some of the women in my group were concerned about shopping for kids without a size – what do Ugandan children look like? some of the women said they were probably taller and thinner than the average American kid. these assumptions, IMO, were harmless. and a lot of the discussion seemed to arise from general curiosity and what they "thought" they knew about a group of ppl.

    not to say the situation you encountered wasnt offensive or harmless. but i think some white people just feel they are really doing good. besides, her "African" husband was all on board with her – so why would she think she was wrong?

    this is why i feel so often it is, in fact, my duty to let white people know when they are overstepping their bounds. they just DONT KNOW, most of the time. and i for one am happy to let them know. what you do with the knowledge i kick to you is on you, but i will not allow you to just go ignorantly about thinking that the things you say/do are honky dory. but thats just me…
    My recent post My Guest Post on VSB: Are You A “Namist?”

    • starita34

      She's not lying ya'll. Gem will say what she wants to say.

      The literal first sentence Gem ever said to me upon "meeting" me on a video chat:
      "So are you white or do you just look white?"

      LMAOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
      I will NEVER forget this!!!

      But more to your point Gem, I agree with you, there is a difference between not knowing and malicious intent or behavior.

      • amaris79

        I want a Gem doll to carry in my purse and whip out whenever someone makes a comment or tries to touch my hair. That is all.

  • amaris79

    I'm going to skip the church part entirely and head straight to the ignorance. There's just not enough characters allowed in this box.
    I went on a trip to Panama. It was a basic trip where we used public transport and stayed in hostels, locally owned simple hotels and the like. I was paired with with a 2520 mother/son of some means, self-made. Now, my family in PR lives pretty much like most of the people there (which, oddly I don't consider "extreme" poverty just "simple"-but I can kinda see how someone else would), so I found the tone with which they addressed everyone extremely insulting. They constantly spoke with a "poor you" head tilt and talked about how this trip made them appreciate what they had. Considering they were a miserable pair and everyone we encountered was happy, they should have been jealous.
    Another eye opener was the way they expressed their…surprise (?) when they leave the country and discover other countries have…roads. "Wow! It's so modern!" O_o
    I say all that just to say really, if you look back, this isn't a religion thing. It's an American thing. I really do remember back when they used to still teach geography and they made America sound like this ultra-modern progressive paradise and everything outside of it was third-world. Religion is just another thing that makes America the "greatest country in the world". I mean, really, the depths of our ignorance is startling. Have you ever challenged someone who said we're the greatest country "because we're free"? What..no other developed country is? What is it exactly that we are free to do? I can't have a baby or not, have a job and get paid the same, walk in a store without being followed, so… I'm rambling, but you get it. That was just another example. I wouldn't blame religion, just include it in my giant side-eye.

    • Uncle Hugh, BP

      I probably looked like a bobblehead the way I was nodding my head as I was reading this.

  • Reese Piece

    I love the Brooklyn Tabernacle. I'm starting to call it home. :)

  • http://glippost.wordpress.com Darrk Gable

    I've been to a few churches that challenged my comfort level. The differences in them that made me feel uncomfortable was the doctrinal issues. I grew up in a Baptist church. As I got older, I started going to a non-denominational one. Then I visited a few pentecostal/apostolic/charismatic churches. Unless a person grew up in that environment, it can turn you off to those churches in particular, and church altogether if not careful.
    My recent post Painful Transparency

  • lifeofalovergirl

    Even without your getting into the attitude towards "Africans" in that white church (I've seen it too and I am white and have been in lots of white churches)….I've always been disturbed by the fact that there are "white churches" and "black churches" because there is a very distinct division and when it comes to worshipping God, shouldn't everyone be on the same page?

  • lifeofalovergirl

    In any case, my former father in law was a missionary and travelled all over the world to places like Zimbabwe and Egypt and Kenya and South Africa. He always had a lot of interesting stories to tell but he did have a bit of an attitude that "those people" were more savage (not in those words but it was the attitude like you describe above). He'd swear up and down that he wasn't a racist but he would make generalizations about groups of people that said otherwise. He seemed to think that "Africans" for example, were more sexually immoral and I found his comments offensive. Granted he is in his 70's and people were TAUGHT too be more racist back then so it's probably not entirely his fault. He THOUGHT he was being a great missionary by bringing people the gospel. He was the same way when he talked about bringing the gospel to the Germans or in South America.